Australia is a multicultural country and as a result, the question of national identity has been an issue of concern for many years. It has also been the root cause of the impossibility of uniting the nation as a symbolic force. Although multiculturism is accepted in Australia it has left the Australians imagining their ancestry aligning Australia into what is termed as an imagined community. The characteristics of an imagined community are perpetuated by media, captured in policy and law, and reinforced through election and during periods of national crisis. This essay will make an attempt to analyze the role of the media in constructing Australia as an imagined community.
The Australian media has greatly contributed in constructing Australia as an imagined community. Here are examples of some of the ways through which this has been achieved.
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For many years Australia has been an urbanized nation, yet the bush has had an iconic status and provides the basis of national imagination. The Australian" bush legend" has had a great influence on the Australians .This legend is traced many years back to the 1890's and remains as a powerful image with a lot of appeal for national consumption. It usually used by the media for advertising or tourist purposes.(1) Invention and imagination are very important to any legend. Benedict Anderson (Barry, 2008, par 4), an Australian writer defined the nation as an imagined political community. This because most members of the nation never knew most of their fellow members, they just imagined what was called "the image of their communion".(2)
Many Australian writers based the image of Australia on the interpretation of popular folksong and literary work of the time, but later agreed that this was a simplistic deduction .Some used tools such as electoral rolls and directories to show the concentration of boarding houses and radical institutions plus individuals made Sydney bulletin a powerhouse of the development of the legend. It was this Sydney vitality that reached out to the bush to capture a new image of Australia in the 1890S.(3) The bulletin's influence can not be understated; its circulation was around 100,000 in a population of three million. It created its own legend as a sensible commercial enterprise, a sort of self-advertising in keeping with the journalism of the area. It should be noted that the writers were deeply influenced by the trends in London. The bush legend remains an enduring force to date, the timing of its birth was crucial, occurring at a time when Australia was in depression and on the precipice of great political change which it drove forward with energetic and entertaining writing, it was an experience imagined and packaged by city folk, but no less true or powerful for it.
The Jacobson Brothers Film (Kenny)
The media yet in another way brought out Australia as an imagined community through the Jacobson brothers film Kenny. This was one of the biggest Australian box office successes of 2006. In the film Kenny, the Aussie battler is carefully constructed to provoke audience identification. It initially served the purpose of negotiating the ambivalence associated with coming up with a separate national identity within an overarching imperial umbrella. From the very beginning it was central to a white identity in Australia, which was built both within and against the empire. The main character in the film was made in such a way that he could be molded into different ,slightly varying shapes, but consistent to its purpose, thus was open for cultural appropriation in a wide variety of different contexts including popular culture, popular literature, and from sports to cinema thereby continuously putting in place a particular national identity. (4)
The Australian National Capital Authority outlines the guidelines for national values, aspirations and collective values that shapes Australian national identity as, first and foremost egalitarianism, social responsibility, freedom, civility, humour, democratic principles, civic awareness, peace, order, respect of the rule of law, mate ship, diversity and tolerance irreverence and fairness, and film Kenny shows all these values making it an ideal national type. It provides a homely, less challenging national story that people are proud of thus starting to imagine themselves in the community brought out in the film. (5)
The Cronullar Riot Of 2005
The media was also responsible for bringing out the issue of imagined community in Australia during the Cronullar riots of 2005. The riots came as a shock especially just after the Sydney Olympics had produced a diverse and tolerant image of Australia where Australians filled stands to cheer athletes regardless of their nationality. Scholars tried to explain the cause of the riots as a violent attack by the majority ethnic group on a minority group. The riots were aimed at reminding the Lebanese population that they were expected to behave in a polite and considerate manner when on Australian beaches. This was a symbolic ownership of the beaches, and also was aimed at telling the Lebanese population that they were expected to assimilate and accept white Australian values. This followed years of commentary by the media, and state and federal governments about the negative influence Middle Eastern people were causing on the Australian society. This created fear and hysteria that brought about panic and momentum that culminated into a riot. Therefore the media was partly responsible for inciting participants to attend the rally and causing violence that day.
Peter Manning (Kirby 2007), a journalist and media analyst, agrees with these. He isolates incidences in the week leading into the riots in which the media dehumanized the Lebanese population with insults about their criminality and disregard to human life. He argues that this created a poisonous atmosphere that provoked Anglo-Celtic Australians to take action against the other Australians. In addition to these, a state taskforce was created specifically to deal with the Middle Eastern community. By doing this the state was simply identifying certain groups as a threat to the moral order, and this in turn encourages the other group to perceive itself as the 'guardian' of their moral culture and therefore posses a 'moral license' to protect their community from external threats. This presents them as inherently tribal and racists who have forged a collective identity based on privilege over other groups which when questioned results in violence. (6)
The world today has evolved into just a global village thanks to innovations and inventions brought about by technology. This therefore should guide people to see themselves in this village but not just in imagined communities. In such a world people can expect to move between countries to live, study and work, and form relationships wherever they are, technologies in communication can keep them connected at any given time anywhere leading to a sense that social relations can exist across the world, independent of physical location and face to face interaction.(7)
This on outside seems an excellent conclusion, but it can also be argued that these changes can put social relations under strain, weakening face to face connections and also undermining the social cohesion of community and associational life.(8) The best way to understand community is not to analyze its structure from the outside, but to look outwards from its core. This helps people realize that there are other people out there too.(9) Communication and information technologies have changed how people interact, for instance people who are not linked in other ways except by interest can exist online through a sense of support and belonging. This creates a virtual community with no physical boundaries.(10)
The media being the core avenue of triggering these imaginations has been a very important part of the world for years now. Film came into use in the 1910s, radio in the 1920s, television in the 1940s and newspapers as the core broadcast media of all time, all these have been the engine of modernity. Throughout all this time has been criticized and sometimes blamed for the outcome of their information, but it should be understood that just as people come from different backgrounds they also have diverse ways of understanding the given information and therefore are bound to agree or disagree.(11)
Multicultural policies can be taken to be divisive, because they promote and accentuate the production of conflicting value systems, meaning that cultural groups should tolerate each other's differences provided this does not conflict with the fundamental values of the other. If this happens then multiculture will have been taken as a collection of static groups. This can be seen as a positive interaction governed by tolerance and mutual coexistence. Such a culture can be seen as representing the values that unify the multiculture, allowing diversity to occur. This can be justified by the high number of intermarriages in Australia. But this again is self defeating, as it reveals that cultural groups are not distinct and static entities.(12)
Conversely, one can argue that multiculturalism represses the minority, that it is an ideology produced by the capitalist owners of the means of production to keep the working classes divided. It is therefore an elite invention designed to create and highlight social divisions. Some scholars see a multicultural society to be a collection of isolated groups that maintain static reproductions of their ancestral cultures. This relationship is repressive, because the state serves to create national identity by favoring some groups and ignoring others, it fails to realize the importance of human power dynamic which constitutes Australia's multiculture.(13)
The 'bush legend' is held with iconic status in Australia and provides the core of national imagining. The Australian media used its great influence and mass appeal to try and define and create a national identity. The Jacobson brother's film 'Kenny' was another important tool that was used to redefine Australia especially through the star Kenny who was carefully constructed to provoke audience identification. He was made in such a way that he could be molded into different slightly varying shapes but consistent to its purpose, thus was open to cultural appropriation in a wide variety of different contexts thereby continuously putting in place a particular national identity. The Cronullar riots of 2005 also saw the Australian cultural diversity brought out as people grouped themselves as the majorities and the minorities with the media and the government being key players in bringing out their differences.(19)